Observers have been waiting for more than a year for Donald Trump to stop acting like a beer hall bouncer and start acting more presidential. On Wednesday, that wish came true, as Baby Donald completed his transformation into a standard chief executive of the United States by espousing many of the hallmark policies one would have associated with President Hillary Clinton.
My Politico Playbook colleagues discerned Trump’s recent policy shift in their Thursday tipsheet. Previously, Trump said NATO was obsolete. Now, he salutes it, Clinton-style, as a “great alliance.” Previously, he lavished kisses on Vladimir Putin and Russia. Now Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have taken a Clintonesque stand against Russia, admitting to low levels of trust between the two nations. Then: No war in Syria. Now, Trump is bombing Syria with the sort of glee Clinton would have brought to the mission. And on and on it goes, with Trump adopting Clintonian stances on Chinese currency manipulation (doesn’t exist!) and the Export-Import Bank (for it).
Hillary Clinton’s presidency would have been a family affair, with Bill and Chelsea mobbing the White House with their advice; Trump has seated daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner at on his roundtable and acts on their guidance. Hillary Clinton would have recruited pros from Goldman Sachs; Trump has brushed the rafters of his administration a beaming gold with guys from Goldman. Hillary Clinton would have gone to war with the Republican Congress, vowing to campaign against them once they refused to pass her legislation; Trump has come close to realizing that goal, telling the leader of the troublesome House Freedom Caucus, “Mark, I’m coming after you.”
Remember how Trump’s surrogates said during the campaign that a Clinton presidency would be too hobbled by the ongoing FBI investigation to govern effectively? Instead, we’ve gotten a Trump presidency tainted by an FBI investigation of several of his top campaign aides. During the campaign, Trump beat on Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen with the baseball-bat fury of Joey Ramone. “To a certain extent, I think she should be ashamed of herself,” he said. That statement is now inoperative, replaced with the “I like her, I respect her” statement he gave to the Wall Street Journal. Reappointing her to the Fed is not outside the realm of possibility.
Elsewhere on the Clintonification front, Trump through his legislative bungling has preserved Obamacare, which he vowed to repeal, and is ready to make common cause with Democrats to pass an infrastructure pork bill. Had Clinton gone shopping for generals to stock her administration, she might have filled her cart with the likes of H.R. McMaster, Jim Mattis, and John F. Kelly.
When not drawing on Clinton for inspiration, Trump has turned to Barack Obama. Before and during the campaign, he criticized Obama for golfing instead of tending to whatever crisis in high fermentation that moment. “I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to go play golf,” Trump said last August. He’s taken a mulligan on that pledge as president, exceeding Obama’s devotion to the links with gusto. According to a Palm Beach Post tally, Trump played 14 times during his first 82 days in office while Obama averaged about 9.3 trips to the courses every 82 days for his entire presidency.
Some of Trump’s flipflops into Clintonland were inevitable. All campaign promises are made to be broken, so he’d be repudiating many of his original positions today no matter who his foe had been in November. Hell, even Clinton would have been reneging on many of her promises, making her a target for the charge that she was turning into Trump. As Blake Hounshell and Daniel Lippman wrote in December, new presidents predictably follow the blueprint etched by the previous president, in part because it’s easy to adopt what’s worked and to harness whatever momentum the previous president has stirred.
To his credit—or detriment, depending on where you stand—Trump has remained stalwart on several of his signature issues. He’s taken decidedly anti-Clinton policy moves on abortion, immigration, environmental regulation, illicit drugs and crime. And it’s hard to imagine Madame President threatening the North Koreans with military force, at least in the opening months of her administration, or nominating Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
But beyond that, the Trump administration continues to blur into something resembling a triangulating Clinton presidency, especially as Bannon’s influence on the president fades from full moon to gibbous. Trump’s Clintonification has not gone unnoticed by his base. Any day now, I expect the president to trademark his 2020 campaign reelection slogan: “Stronger Together.”
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